The case filed in the High Court claims that Meta responded inadequately to hateful content on its platform, especially in relation to the war in Tigray that has raged for two years.
One of the petitioners said his father, an Ethiopian academic, was targeted with racist messages before his murder in November 2021, and that Facebook did not remove these posts despite complaints.
“If Facebook had just stopped the spread of hate and moderated posts properly, my father would still be alive,” said Abrham Meareg, who is ethnic Tigrayan and an academic like his father.
“I’m taking Facebook to court so no one ever suffers as my family has again. I’m seeking justice for millions of my fellow Africans hurt by Facebook’s profiteering –- and an apology for my father’s murder.”
The petitioners are asking the court for the establishment of a 200-billion Kenyan shillings ($1.6 billion) compensation fund for victims of hate and violence incited on Facebook.
Meta could not immediately be reached for comment.
Another petitioner was Fisseha Tekle, an Ethiopian researcher for Amnesty International and a Tigrayan, who has written about the war in the country’s north and been subjected to a torrent of online abuse.
The lawsuit was also filed by Katiba Institute, a Kenyan rights group, which is seeking changes to Facebook’s algorithm which they claim promotes and spreads hate speech.
Inciteful, hateful and dangerous posts “spark conversation, attract reactions and shares as well as motivate back-and-forth discussion in the comments section”, read the petition seen by AFP.
It also accused Meta of “inhumane” working conditions for its overstretched content moderators in Nairobi tasked with overseeing eastern and southern Africa, a vast region covering 500 million people.
The petitioners claimed this resulted in “systematic discrimination” against African Facebook users, citing the platform’s swift response by comparison to the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump on January 6, 2021.
Some of the inflammatory posts cited by the two Ethiopian petitioners were still online, the complaint said.
AFP is involved in a partnership with Meta providing fact-checking services in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.